Serious Storytelling

Suyo’s bartenders sidestep pretension by perfecting the art of not taking yourself too seriously

The bar team at Suyo Modern Peruvian—Andrew Kong, left, and bar manager Max Curzon-Price—tell the tale of Peru in their creative cocktails. Chelsea Brown photo

Inside the recently opened Suyo Modern Peruvian on Main Street, just above the chorus of stylish 20-somethings and couples on date night, the bartenders can be heard telling the story of Peru—from undergrowth to clouds, ancient Incan civilization to contemporary culture.

Their tales come in the form of cocktails, accompanied by shared plates of authentic Peruvian cuisine from chef and co-owner Ricardo Valverde.

Much like the menu, the interior eschews stereotype, exoticization and the trappings of “fusion” by leaning into the natural influences of Peru with greenery, wood and stone accents. The sleek minimalist design feels organic and modern, as do the cocktails, which combine complex techniques with intricate storytelling that celebrate the country.

The stories lead the menu. Which makes bar manager Max Curzon-Price and fellow bartender Andrew Kong well-suited as a team.

Both have backgrounds in creating detailed drinks, Curzon-Price at the award-winning Botanist Bar and Kong at The Westin Bayshore’s H Tasting Lounge, where he conjured up the 12 Cocktails of Christmas list. Their life behind the bar set them up for the long hours of development, passing recipes back and forth; their lives outside the bar, Curzon-Price as a teen journalist in Brighton and Kong as a DnD dungeon master, helped them to find the imagination to create something that tastes like gold (literally).

Plus, they both have a knack for enthralling a row of people.

The Cacti cocktail at Suyo is fresh and complex; find the recipe here. Chelsea Brown photo

When creating the cocktail list, which consists of seven themes with two sister cocktails for each, Kong and Curzon-Price started with a map of Peru and asked themselves, “How can we show a full range of the landscape without being a bar that churns out a million Pisco Sours?”

There are still quite a few Pisco Sours poured in an evening, but there are also elaborate multi-part cocktails that represent phenomena like the Pacific tides, Amazonian rainforest and Andean mountains. One drink tackles the concept of gravity with a moon suspended in inky black; another an altar complete with cow’s blood and a chicken heart.

Translating heady concepts into spiritful cocktails comes with the occupational hazard of overplaying one’s hand or sounding pretentious. A less skilled duo may have come across as if they were reciting a memorized script, but Curzon-Price and Kong have an easy earnestness about them that has everyone at the bar leaning in, whether they ordered the drink or not.

One woman, a PhD candidate from UVic and self-professed international food and art chaser, flew in from Victoria specifically to visit Suyo at her supervisor’s recommendation. She wasn’t drinking, but was keenly listening to everything Kong and Curzon-Price were saying.

“You can take yourself seriously in the production of cocktails, but you can’t take yourself too seriously in the serving of cocktails,” says Curzon-Price as he places a rock glass rimmed with yuzu edible paint and ginger pop rocks on the bar while launching into the history of Incan gold mining.

“When you drink it, you get the sensation of rocks breaking apart in your mouth, which makes it the dumbest drink on the menu and subsequently my favourite,” he says.

The secret to striking a balance between craft and folly is finding “an emotive hook in the things we consume,” he explains. “It helps you understand the why behind it. There’s a difference between enjoying a drink and understanding.”

Once Curzon-Price is confident that he has accurately conveyed the why, he takes liberty with the “serve.”

“Then you can serve it with blood if you want to, or you can put it in a rock, whatever,” he says flippantly as we all lean in. 

—by Allie Turner

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